Friday, July 27, 2012

CA Board Recap: July 26, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:37 pm
End Time: 10:57 pm

It was a late meeting, but necessarily so.  We had a lot of topics to discuss and although we do not have final votes to stand on, I believe the time was well spent.  The Board Operations Committee may need to look at this meeting as an example of biting off more than we can chew.  There are certain hot button issues (like the HOA bill) that we should allocate 10-15 extra minutes, regardless of the manner in which the information is going to be presented.  We also had the unanticipated topic of Symphony Woods, which I will discuss below.

Overall, the Board had a good night.  There were a few members who seemed unwilling or unable to accept the outcome of some straw votes, but that is a matter of maturity and professionalism left to the discipline of the individual. 

Symphony Woods

Although we didn't see it coming, the recommendations of the Planning Board put Symphony Woods back int he spotlight for the first meeting after their decision.  Cy Paumier spoke during Resident Speak-out regarding his concern that CA was not "selling the Plan", suggesting that the Planning Board's recommendation for meandering paths, completely contradictory to the intended structure of Cy's Plan, would be unworkable and result in a bad design.

As may be anticipated, this brought us back into the "tree discussion" (i.e., the number of trees being removed by our plan), where the words strong, majestic, and canopy are tossed around like playing cards.  Obviously, I was disappointed to note this development, but saw it coming a mile away.

From my understanding, Cy wants CA to hold a community meeting unveiling the plans for Symphony Woods and earning some endorsement.  My experience has been that proponents rarely testify and that those against a given proposition are much more motivated.  I had expected the Planning Board to incorporate this base truth into their final decision and maybe they did.  We have yet to see what kind of mandate will be attached to "meandering paths". 

I appreciate Cy's point, but this is a matter of strategy for Staff to determine.  The Board should not be involved in cultivating buy-in for this Plan. 

HOA Legislation

As you may be aware, about a year ago the Board considered requesting legislation that would designate CA as a distinct community service organization, by which we would not longer be subject to the legion of regulations and restrictions that are placed on home-owners associations as a category.  I've read the proposed bill and it makes sense to me.  There are a number of residents that have expressed legitimate concerns about CA exempting itself from transparency laws.  That makes sense to me too.  I honestly believe that with a diligent process and an open-mind, we can craft legislation that brings both sides together and actually shows our critics that we want transparency and are willing to codify it into State law.  One such critic spoke last night.  I asked him if he would be satisfied with this bill if we incorporated all of the transparency provisions that are seen to be excluded and added legislation to codify those transparency by-laws that we currently follow, but are not required by State law.  He said he probably would.  That, my friends, is progress.

Anyhow, last night's focus was setting up the process by which this legislation can be brought to the public, explained, and then amended as necessary.  I was impressed by the manner in which most Board members were able to focus on the process itself and not get into the merits of the bill.  (Most).  The Board seemed to settled on a three month process, but I worry that may not be enough time.  Nonetheless, I will accept my position as the minority if that is what the Board chooses to do.  Overall, I think this is the right approach and am proud of our organization for continuing its efforts to compromise with our most stringent critics.  That is rare.

SIC Data Points

This one is my baby.  I am currently serving as the Chair of the Strategic Implementation Committee, which most likely causes some Board members concern in light of my repeated admonition that we are to provide oversight, not micro-management.  However, during a Board retreat last Spring, the Board came to the conclusion that we were not data-focused enough, and would often leap to resolutions without knowing the problem. 

In order to address this, I recommended to Staff that we design a process by which Board members can tell Staff what information they will need to make educated decisions about matters of oversight that come before the Board so that Staff may then direct its data presentation to meet those queries.  In sum, make the Board proactive as opposed to reactive in data gathering.

I was legitimately concerned that this would turn into a free-for-all open air audit of the organization (as I'm sure some skeptical Staff members were as well), but I think the Board showed significant discipline and some appreciation for the opportunity to have these questions answered at the front end.  I was very happy with how this went and proud of the preliminary outcome.

Sister Cities: Cergy-Pontoise

This is a matter that has legitimately kept me up at night: Whether the Board should fund 1-4 representatives (Board, Staff, Residents) to attend a Sister Cities program in Cergy-Pontoise, France.  Our financial obligation would be small (airfare of approximately $1,500 for full fare), but I am most concerned about appearances.  Does this expenditure improve the Columbia Association for the residents?  The Board seemed very focused on providing reasons why we should send representatives, but never really gave much attention to why we shouldn't.  If we do, we can and should expect residents to bring Cergy-Pontoise, France up as a slight whenever they ask for any financial assistance from the organization. 

"My son has to get changed in a dark, smelly pool locker-room, yet the Board is sending itself to France."
"My daughter gets paid minimum wage to work the snack bar, yet Board members are flying to Europe for free."

The Board has an obligation to consider how it appears to the public, particularly when it is effectively rewarding itself an opportunity to fly to France.

Despite my concerns, I believe that unless we are going to disengage from the Sister Cities program, we have an obligation to participate and should have at least one representative there.  My compromise was to support partially funding the airfare for up to four representatives to attend, only one of which will be a Board member.  I must say that my support is very tentative and hearing two Board members complain about "partially funding" (i.e., Half) the airfare bothered me a great deal, particularly since one of the complaining Board members was the "flyer-apparent" for the future trip.  It was noted that this is not a "perk" and that we may not find four people who want to pay half the load for flying to a "suburb of Paris".  Really?  $600-$700 to fly to France, after which lodging and food are mostly provided for by the Sister Cities program?  Respectfully -- allow me to find a silk handkerchief to wipe away your tears.  I want the attendees to have some skin in the game to gauge motivation.  This is a very small expense, but that is not dispositive to me.  What matters most is how this will look once it is executed.

I made a compromise at the straw vote stage, but would be interested in hearing your thoughts.  After hearing the coarse attitude of some Board members about the "burden" of paying half, I am back on the fence and may favor not sending any Board members at all.  I would be 100% behind an effort to make this an opportunity for our Sister City Advisory Committee and residents at large.

That's all for today.  Have a great Friday doing what you love.  Happy Olympics Day.